Readers have weighed in with their favorite holiday recipes, some haloed entertaining classics and others decidedly idiosyncratic family heirlooms. We asked a quartet of local chefs to put their own spins on reader write-ins — interpretations that showcase each chef's unique style and that just might breathe fresh life into this year's seasonal gatherings. Some of these require serious chops in the kitchen, but think of the payoff when your guests "ooooh."
Local chefs put their spin on readers' classic holiday recipes
David Benstock's Stuffed Mushrooms
The chef/owner of Il Ritorno in St. Petersburg grew up in Seminole and went to Shorecrest Preparatory School. After culinary school at Johnson and Wales in Denver, he worked his way through big-league restaurants (Spago at the Ritz-Carlton in Vail, Colo.; the Spice Market and the Modern in New York; Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach) before opening his little Italian-inflected hotspot in 2014. He's got an affection for truffles, and this recipe shows off the luxe beauties to full effect. You can purchase truffles online or at the Saturday Morning Market.
For the mushrooms:
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 trumpet mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon salt
8 shishito peppers, roasted
1/2 cup fresh goat cheese
6 slices fresh white truffle
For the gremolata creme:
1 cup creme fraiche
1/2 bunch parsley, stems removed
2 lemons, zested
8 cloves roasted garlic
1 tablespoon salt
For the chili oil:
1/4 cup red chili flakes
2 cups olive oil
Bring olive oil to 300 degrees in a pan. Slowly cook the thinly sliced trumpet mushrooms by submerging them in the oil for 35 minutes, until tender. Let cool down and pat to dry, then season with salt.
Blend roasted shishito peppers and goat cheese in a food processor until smooth. Lay the trumpet mushroom slices side by side and slightly overlapping on a sheet of plastic wrap. Put a line of goat cheese down the middle and roll up around the cheese. Refrigerate the log for an hour. Cut to 2 1/2-inch cylinders. To reheat, put in the oven for 4 minutes at 350 degrees and then torch (or broil for 45 seconds) and layer white truffle slices on top.
For the gremolata creme, mix all ingredients in a blender until nice and green.
For the chili oil, put ingredients in a pot and simmer on medium heat until it reaches 300 degrees. Take off the heat, cool and then strain.
To assemble, place 1 1/2 tablespoons gremolata on four plates, spreading thinly in a circular motion. Lay mushroom log across the creme with white truffle on top. Drizzle six or seven drops of chili oil on the plate, to taste.
Ferrell Alvarez's Ancho Grilled Sweet Potatoes with Pickled Raisins and Honey Cashew Sauce
The Seminole Heights restaurant Rooster and the Till, co-owned by Ferrell Alvarez and Ty Rodriguez, has made a name for itself by rigorously sourcing ingredients. Luscious pork belly features prominently, but it's frequently the nuanced vegetable preparations that induce swooning (case in point: the menu's current harissa smoked carrots). This recipe is a complex rendition of a seasonal staple.
4 sweet potatoes, washed and cut into 1/4-inch slices
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons ancho chile powder
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the pickled raisins:
1 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 cups golden raisins
For the honey cashew sauce:
3/4 cup whole cashews, toasted until golden brown; crush 1/4 cup and leave others whole
1/4 cup local raw honey
2 sprigs cilantro
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Blanch sliced sweet potatoes in boiling water until you're just able to pierce with a fork. Immediately strain and "shock" potatoes in a generous amount of ice water to stop the cooking process. Once thoroughly chilled, strain again, and let sit for 5 minutes to dry. Once dried, place in a mixing bowl and season with oil, ancho powder and salt and pepper to taste.
To make the pickles raisins, warm all ingredients except raisins in a pot until dissolved. While liquid is still warm, pour over raisins and refrigerate days in advance so they soften and absorb the pickling liquid.
To make the sauce, combine all ingredients except the 1/4 cup crushed cashews in a blender and puree until smooth. If mixture becomes too thick, add 1 tablespoon water at a time until desired consistency is achieved.
To serve, grill cooked sweet potatoes on a very hot oiled grill until caramelized on both sides. Lay them flat on a platter and spoon honey cashew sauce over. Sprinkle with pickled raisins and toasted cashews.
Jeannie Pierola's Chowder
Pierola, the dynamic chef and owner of Edison food+drink lab in Tampa, is Florida-born and bred. Not surprisingly, her spin on chowder celebrates Sunshine State ingredients along with some exotica (uni) in the kind of East-West mash-up for which she has become famous.
6 wild Maine sea scallops, the "boot" or small hard band of side muscle removed, sliced horizontally into 3 slices
6 Gulf stone crab claws, cracked and cleaned
18 New Bedford bay scallops, boots removed
18 Key West pink shrimp, peeled and deveined
18 Cedar Key littleneck clams, steamed opened
1/2 pineapple, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 fresh palm hearts, sliced into 1/4-inch discs
2 Fresno chiles, stemmed, seeded, sliced in 1/8-inch rings
18 sea purslane or watercress stalks
1 quart Smoked Coconut Dashi (recipe follows), boiling hot
1/4 cup toasted coconut flakes
1 cup Uni Foam (recipe follows), boiling hot and frothed
In a heated, large soup bowl arrange 3 slices sea scallop (1 full in total), 3 bay scallops, 3 rock shrimp, 1 stone crab claw, 3 clams, 3 pieces of palm heart, 3 pineapple pieces, 3 chile rings, and a few sprigs of purslane. Carefully pour 3 to 4 ounces of boiling dashi over seafood in bowl. Sprinkle with toasted coconut. Froth uni foam with an immersion blender or a whisk until foamy. Using a spoon scoop some foam off the top of the uni foam and place 2-3 clouds of foam on the soup. Repeat with five more hot bowls.
Smoked Coconut Dashi
1 cup coconut flakes
1 quart coconut water
1/2 cup bonito flakes
2-inch piece of kombu
White soy, to taste
Prepare a smoker and line a perforated pan with coconut flakes. Smoked the coconut flakes for 15 minutes. Place a medium pot over medium-high heat, pour in coconut water and bring to a boil. Submerge smoked coconut, kombu and bonito flakes in coconut water and steep 30 minutes. Strain. Season to taste with white soy. Reserve.
1 shallot, minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 cups vegetable stock
2 sea urchins
2 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
1 teaspoon lecithin (to stabilize foam, optional)
In a small pot sweat the shallots in the butter until translucent. Add vegetable stock and bring to a simmer. Place remaining ingredients in a jar of a blender. Pour hot stock over contents and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and sugar starting with about a 1/2 teaspoon of each. Blend in lecithin if using. Strain and reserve. To foam, blend again to achieve a foamy top.
Evan Schmidt's Dark Chocolate Namelaka with Oatmeal Cookie
Cena in the Channelside District is one of Tampa's most sophisticated bastions of contemporary Italian fare. One thing that gives it an edge is pastry chef Evan Schmidt's particular flights of fancy. His confections are whimsical and visually arresting, but with a keen understanding of the juxtapositions of flavors and textures. Here's one that will prompt post-prandial giddiness in your holiday guests (and if you don't feel like making it, they'll be serving it at Cena this month).
For the oatmeal cookie dough:
8 ounces butter
5 ounces granulated sugar
5 ounces raw cane sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 ounces corn syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
9 ounces all-purpose flour
2 whole eggs
9 ounces toasted quick oats
For the dark chocolate namelaka:
6 1/2 sheets silver leaf gelatin (can purchase online or at a crafts store)
400 grams whole milk
20 grams corn syrup
700 grams dark chocolate
750 grams heavy cream
For the dark chocolate glaze:
8 sheets silver leaf gelatin
165 grams water
225 grams corn syrup
225 grams granulated sugar
85 grams neutral glaze (product can be purchased on Amazon)
200 grams dark chocolate, chopped
160 grams condensed milk
Cream together butter, both sugars, salt and corn syrup. Add cinnamon and baking soda to the flour and sift.
Add eggs, one at a time, to the butter mixture, scraping the bowl in between. Mix in the flour mixture and quick oats until combined. Allow dough to chill/relax in the fridge for at least one hour.
To make the dark chocolate namelaka, bloom the gelatin in ice water and set aside. Heat milk and corn syrup to a simmer in a pot. Stir in gelatin until dissolved. Place chocolate in a blender, then pour milk mixture over the chocolate and process until smooth. While blending, slowly add the heavy cream. Pour mixture into a plastic wrap-lined half sheet pan. Allow to set at least 4 hours.
To make the dark chocolate glaze, bloom gelatin in ice water and set aside. In a saute pan, mix together the water, corn syrup and sugar and neutral glaze. Bring mixture to a boil, add the gelatin and remove from heat. Pour mixture over the chocolate. Using a stick blender (or transferring mixture to a regular blender), add condensed milk to the chocolate and blend until fully combined.
To assemble, preheat oven to 300 degrees. Cut cookie dough into small cubes. Pat evenly into a greased half sheet pan and freeze for 30 minutes. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating pan half way through. Allow to cool before cutting into 4-inch-by-4-inch squares. Freeze namelaka and cut into 3.5 inch-by-3.5 inch squares. Heat chocolate glaze and dip each namelaka, making sure to scrape excess off the bottom. Place in the center of cookie square. Allow to thaw (approximately 30 minutes). Garnish and serve.